24th May 2017

In Tallinn, everyone’s wearing slippers

Berwins Digital’s pop up office in Tallinn is on a learning expedition, and one of the lessons is this – in Tallinn, you leave your shoes at the door and wear slippers.

Why? Is it some relic of a long-forgotten legacy or superstition? Nope – it’s just that for most of the year, the weather is so bad that your floors would be ruined if you kept your shoes on.  And your feet would be too uncomfortable in boots all day. Though it’s warm now, two weeks ago there was thick snow. 

Talking tech

Another lesson – how extraordinarily friendly and open our welcome has been.  Our mission has included meetings with a host of vibrant, innovative tech companies – not least a great conversation with Toomas Türk, from Tallinn Science Park – Tehnopol. After a quick snack of pickled sprats on rye bread – how Baltic – a swift march through the old town and across the city took us to the super-cool offices of Jobbatical to meet charismatic CEO Karoli Hendriks and her team.  

We’re already connected to Karoli through the Leeds Digital Festival and an invitation to join the Jobbatical team lunch in Tallinn, a natural follow on to earlier discussions.  Shoes off, slippers on we shares suishi with the team and I was invited to introduce myself and explain why I was in Tallinn.

Jobbatical provide the means to find tech, business, or creative jobs abroad, from wherever you are; and for employers to source employees and contractors across the globe. It’s a real boundary breaking ground breaker – bucking the noxious trend of protectionism and providing a world of opportunity. All this is coming out of Tallinn, from an international team but sourcing 36 different countries.

Brexit Briefing   

The last gig of our second day was our own, taking us back to the location which feels like it’s our Tallinn home from home, Lift99 in the Telliskivi Creative City.  Shoes off, slippers on - we’ve never presented in slippers before.   As attendees representing businesses from across Estonia arrived, they received copies of my updated Brexit Briefing, before I went on to start the proceedings by introducing Berwins Digital. Discussing what Brexit was about, how it came about and what obstacles it presented we took a closer look at the position of the UK going forward in the light of the Brexit developments.

Joined by guest keynote speaker, UK FinTech envoy Dr Chris Sier we explored the opportunities available in the North of England – particularly Leeds – for digital businesses, especially in the data and financial spheres. With 30 mainly tier two and tier three banks and building societies headquartered in Leeds, and these being accessible to newer companies, Leeds is the clear preferred choice. Turning out 36,000 graduates a year from leading universities, the talent pool in Leeds is being refreshed, and the Financial Conduct Authority, which recently appeared at Leeds Digital Festival, provides both the gold standard of regulation and a beacon in guidance and accessibility to fledgling FinTech businesses.

We were told that Estonians don’t like to ask questions, and are very restrained, but a great discussion followed, and the seeds of valuable business opportunities were sown.  

Flagship conference

Tallinn’s tech and startup community is gearing itself up for Latitude, of which our event was an opener, and kicks off with a pre-party on the evening of 24th May.  We’ll be there through the Thursday and Friday, connecting further with this stimulating ecosystem.  Look out for more reports; though whether we’ll be able to blog after Thursday evenings Pipedrive Dealmaking Party, promising “relevant and legal social lubricants”, music from NOËP (hot in Estonia) and DJs Girti Suun and Sander Mölder  – at Lift 99 again – may be a step too far.

Paul Berwin is a leading technology and digital law specialist. During May 2017, he is spearheading Berwins' trade mission to Estonia.

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